Talking Hawaiian Shirts With Mr. Dirt Cheap – Orange County Register


Recently, I realized that my wardrobe was reduced to a lot of t-shirts, but hardly any real shirts.

My very pretty wife Raquel takes care of me by throwing away whatever she thinks is great or old, always without me knowing because I cling to things I love no matter what looks or what. ‘state. So, I went on a mission to find myself some new Hawaiian shirts for my closet. I feel good in these kind of shirts and I’m a fan of the vintage silky types we used to have in the 60s.

The mission was long and difficult.

After going to just about every store and surf shop you would think this sort of thing would be worn, I had no luck at all. Either they had nothing that I considered ‘cool’ or they had nothing that suited me – I wear 2XL or 3XL in most shirts (shut up, I have the broad shoulders of a lifetime paddling).

Then I tried google to find something. There you have it, there was a listing for a store, Dirt Cheap Plants and Hawaiian Shirts, in Costa Mesa. How could a store with a name like this NOT have what I was looking for?

So, with my son Tanner, we decided to check it out. We almost missed it because the store is at the back and not visible from the street. Luckily Tanner mapped it out and we went around and found it.

Wow, this was exactly the store I needed. Outside there were shelves of the kind of shirts I love and inside there were a lot more. This place is like the promised land for Aloha shirts and the like.

After quickly finding four gorgeous shirts and grabbing one for Tanner, I struck up a conversation with the owner, Nik Wassiliew (who goes by Mr. Dirt Cheap). Turns out we used to surf together back in the 60s in Doheny and share a lot of surf history.

I was so glad I found Nik and his store, I asked him to write down some info on “Dirt Cheap” and email it to me. The following is the short version of his story.

“I was born to Russian immigrants who settled in Orange in the early 1950s. I went to Orange High and in my senior year we had double sessions. My afternoons were free and spent mainly at Doheny to learn to surf. I started my life as a trader at 16 working for the Montgomery Ward warehouse in Anaheim and later their 17th Street store in Santa Ana.

“After high school I started in traditional clothing, working for Guy Livingston’s Fashion Square store in Santa Ana. This is where I got my first exposure to Reyn Spooner shirts.

“Having some agricultural training from my father, I started in the plant and flower business. All the while, I continued to surf and keep the “Spirit of Aloha” in my character. Throughout my life I have continued to collect unique Aloha and surf shirts. I put a small rack outside my plant store. Long story short, plant sales have gone down, luckily sales of Aloha shirts have gone up.

“Aloha shirts give me incredible positive energy. How could you not feel good with these rainbow colored tropical fabrics, right?

“I guess I have over 5,000 vintage clothes, surf shirts, shorts, jeans, shorts, jackets, shoes and god knows what else stored in big plastic bins. Really try to provide a huge selection of Aloha shirts at a reasonable price considering the condition and rarity of some, in sizes ranging from small to 3X.

“Inside the store is a special room filled with an almost 50-year-old collection of unique and rare Spooners, vintage surf shirts and eclectic clothing. As an example, given the season, I have Spooner’s first Christmas shirt from 1983. It’s undated because I think they never realized how popular it would become.

“I’m always happy to answer questions about Aloha / Spooner shirts, as there is so much misinformation in the market these days. Plus, if people are interested in vintage surf clothing, they can make an appointment to look in the trash cans.

I love this guy, and this store, and on top of that, he was the 2001 bodysurfing world champion. Looking for the perfect Christmas present for someone in your life who loves the Aloha vibe? This is your place.

The Dirt Cheap Hawaiian Shirt store is located at 440 E 17th St., Costa Mesa.


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